Mary Sophia Allen (centre) with four members of her force

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Mary Sophia Allen (centre) with four members of her force

by Christina Broom
bromide print, 1916
4 3/8 in. x 5 5/8 in. (110 mm x 143 mm)
Given by Winifred Margaret Broom, 1940
Photographs Collection
NPG x6075

On display in Room 25 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

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This print shows Sub-commandant Mary Allen, one of the earliest members of the Women's Police Service (WPS), with members of her force. Although the government refused to make the WPS a permanent section of the police force after the war, their work paved the way for the decision in 1920 to recruit women into the police force.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Lydia Miller; Samira Ahmed, Inspirational Women: Rediscovering stories in Art, Science and Social Reform, 2022, p. 34
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 179 Read entry

    With Margaret Darner Dawson, Mary Allen was the founder in 1914 of the Women Police in London, and their Commandant from 1919 until 1938. She is seen here with members of her force at the British Women's Work Exhibition, held at the Princes Skating Rink, Knightsbridge, London. She later published Pioneer Policewoman, Lady in Blue and Women at the Cross-roads.

    Mrs Albert Broom, the first woman press-photographer, was also a pioneer. A woman of indefatigable energy, she took up photography with a box camera at the age of forty to support an ailing husband, and was official photographer to the Household Brigade until her death: 'I have photographed all the king's horses and all the king's men, and I am never happier than when I am with my camera among the crack regiments of Britain'. Apart from her military work, she specialized in photographs of royalty and political meetings, and the Gallery owns a representative selection of her work, including important photographs of the Suffragettes.

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Current affairs

As war drags on with heavy losses conscription is introduced with the Military Service Act. Conscientious objectors who refused to fight were compelled to do non-military war work, and some were jailed.
British Summer Time is introduced, putting the clocks forward an hour during the summer in order to capitalise on daylight hours.

Art and science

C. Hubert H. Parry sets William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, to music popularising the poem and tune as a patriotic English anthem. On hearing Edward Elgar's orchestrated version in 1922, King George V suggested that it replace God Save the King as the National Anthem.


The Irish Citizen Army starts a Nationalist rebellion in Dublin: The Easter Rising.
Massive losses are suffered on the Western Front at the battles of the Somme and Verdun.
The Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire (1916-18) led by Prince Faisal is assisted by T.E. Lawrence, who became known as Lawrence of Arabia.

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Sean Scholfield

24 January 2016, 23:21

Commandant Allen was also a suffragette. She linked up with Mosley in the 30s Blackshirt movement and was teachihg women of her corps how to use pistols and flying lessons. She was kept under house arrest for the duration of the war.